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The early History of Clan Gregor

By Peter Lawrie, ©1996

Clan Gregor has many aliases. The reason for this is rooted in the turbulent history of Highland Scotland.  In this paper I shall attempt to explain Highland clanship and the history of Clan Gregor from its beginning to the early seventeenth century. Part of this presentation has been drawn from the unpublished 1989 PhD thesis of Dr Martin MacGregor, entitled  ‘A Political History of Clan Gregor before 1571’.  Dr MacGregor presents some ideas about our early relationship with the Campbells that are not to be found in any published sources. Ramsay’s ‘The Arrow of Glen Lyon’ has been used as the source for the period between 1571 and 1603.

Clan or Clann is the Gaelic word for family or, to be more exact, kindred sharing a common descent. Clan names may be frozen patronymics: Mac Griogair means son of Gregor. Others derive from descriptive features of the name father, such as Campbell – cam beul meaning squint or wry mouth. The Campbells belong to the Mac Cailein Mor branch of the kindred of Diarmaid o Duibhne. Others are derived from occupations, such as Macintyre, Mac an t-saoir, son of the wright. Kin-based clans developed as a means of controlling land and allocating resources. Their growth and eventual decline were related to the weakness of government. Formation and dissolution was a dynamic process. Highland Clanship came out of a fusion between Celtic tribalism and Norman feudalism during the 12th and 13th centuries.

Dr MacGregor suggests that the personal name Gregor may come from one of several Pope Gregories. There was an 11th century Irish cult of Gilla-Griguir or devotee of Gregory. 12th and 13th century bishops of Moray, Dunkeld, Ross and Brechin all bore the name and it was common among Norman families in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Clan Gregor has a tradition, embodied in our slogan – ‘S Rioghal mo dhream – ‘Royal is my race’. Clan Gregor is the principal kindred of Clan Alpin, which has been traditionally derived from the ninth century King Kenneth MacAlpin. Kenneth united the Picts and the Scots into one nation known as Alba, pronounced A-la-pa.  Clan Gregor has been claimed to derive from King Giric, a nephew of Kenneth, who ruled 878 to 889 possibly because the name sounds like Griogair. Dr MacGregor states that this is a myth first documented in the late 15th century. (I have seen a beautifully illuminated document demonstrating the genealogy of the Campbells from Adam and Eve! I suspect that they must descend from Cain rather than Abel.)

A brief note of explanation: Scottish landed gentry are normally designated as name of place-name. Thus: MacGregor of Glen Strae. It is correct to refer to the person by the name of his estate, thus: Glenstrae. In this paper the place-names are given as Glen Strae. When the full designation is given it is MacGregor of Glen Strae.
However, when the abbreviated form is used it will always be the single word Glenstrae or Glenorchy.

Dr MacGregor suggests that Clan Gregor probably derive from a 13th century kindred called Clann Ailpein, who may have been a client kindred of the ruling MacDougall kindred of Lorn. As part of the Comyn faction the MacDougalls were opposed to Robert the Bruce. King Robert suffered a serious defeat by John of Lorn at Dalrigh, near Tyndrum in 1306. In 1308 the King defeated the MacDougalls at the Pass of Brander. The rise of the Campbells dates from the generosity of King Robert to Niall Campbell of Lochawe at the expense of the MacDougalls. Eoin of Glen Orchy, as part of the Lorn kindred, was allied with Wallace and captured in battle against the English in 1296.  His daughter Mariota married the Campbell laird of Innis Chonnail. This marriage was the basis of the charter to Glen Orchy given to the Campbells by David II in 1358. His brother Donnchadh Beag, father of Griogair was the effective starting point of the lineage in Glen Orchy around 1300. Gillies in his book ‘In famed Breadalbane’ discusses 17th century bonds of friendship between the then chiefs of MacNab and MacGregor. These refer to their common descent from two brothers. The MacNabs were the Clann an Aba or family of the Abbot of Glen Dochart. The relationship must be from Clann Ailpein. Dr MacGregor is quite correctly cautious with the surviving genealogies, showing contradictions and fabrications in various Highland genealogies. It has been speculated by others that the Dubhghall in the genealogy in the book of the Dean of Lismore was in fact the eldest son of Somerled and the ancestor of the MacDougalls of Lorn. To demonstrate this possibility,I have aligned the known dates of the MacDougall lineage and the names in the Dean’s genealogy. The estimated dates (~) are my own.

The alternative is to take at face value the genealogical descent of the Clan Gregor as given in the book of the Dean of Lismore. At page 137 of the MacLauchlan edition of 1862 is the poem by Duncan MacDougall Maoil - Some historians have taken this as descent from the 9th century King Alpin, father of Kenneth MacAlpin who united the Picts and the Scots in 843. Unless a number of generations have been omitted this seems barely credible and has been discounted by modern scholars - but this may be changing. Below, on the right I have given an extract of the poem and the patrilinear descent suggested by it.

The Dean's 16th century genealogy

Alpin (Ailpin)

Kennan (Connan)

Hugh of Glen Orchy (Aodha Urchadhaigh)

Gillelan (Giolla Fhaolain)

Duncan (Donnchadh)

Duncan the small (Donnchadh beag)


John the lucky or learned


John (Eoin cam)

Black John (Eoin dubh)



Here is the full modern English text from the Book of the Dean of Lismore, of “The history of the secret origin of John MacPatrick” by Sir Duncan MacDougal Maoil MacGregor father of the Dean of Lismore

What belongs to his race is not feeble,
The bearing of that race we love,
Seldom of a feeble race it is,
Among the Gael of purest fame,
That inquiry of their origin is made,
By the men who read in books
Firm the belief to them and me,
During the evening time so dark
That in the blood of noble kings
Were the rights of true ClanGregor
Now that I'm by thy green dwelling,
Listen John to thy family story.

A root of the very root are we
Of famous kings of noble story.
Know that Patrick was thy Father,
Malcolm father was to Patrick.
Son of Black John, not black his breast,
Him who feasts and chariots owned.
Another John was Black John's father,
Son of Gregor, son of John the lucky.
Three they were of liberal heart,
Three beneficent to the Church.
The father to that learned John,
Was Malcom who his wealth ne'er hid,
Son of Duncan surly and small,
Whose standard never took reproach.
His father was another Duncan,
Son of Gillelan of the ambush,
Noble he was, giving to friends,
Son of the famous Hugh from Urquhay.
Kennan of the pointed spear,
Of Hugh from Urquhay was the father.
From Alpin of stately mien and fierce,
Mighty king of weighty blows.

This is the fourth account that's given
Of thee who art the heir of Patrick.
Remember well thy backbone line,
Down from Alpin, heir of Dougal
Twenty and one besides thyself,

John the black not black in heart.
Thy genealogy leads us truly
To the prosperous Fergus McErc.
Of thy race which wastes not like froth,
Six generations wore the crown.
Forty Kings there were and three,
Their blood and origin are known.
Three there were north and three to the south,
After the time of Malcom Kenmore.
Ten of the race did wear the crown,
From the time of Malcom up to Alpin.
From Alpin upwards we do find
Fourteen kings till we reach Fergus.

Such is thy genealogy
To Fergus, son of Ere the prosperous.
How many are there of thy race
Must there have been from thee to Fergus.
Noble the races mix with thy blood,
Such as we now we cannot number.
The Schools would weary with our tale
Numbering the kings from whom thou 'rt sprung.
The blood of Arthur is in thy bosom
Precious is that which fills thy veins ;
The blood of Cuan, the blood of Conn,
Two wise men, glory of the race.
The blood of Grant in thy apple-red cheek,
The blood of Neil the fierce and mighty.
Fierce and gentle, at all times,
Is the story of the royal race.

Part was through the poem (highlighted) is the following: Down from Alpin, heir of Dougal, Twenty and one besides thyself.

On page 127 of the Dean of Lismores Book (McLauchlan and Skene) we see the following:
Eoin Mac Phadruig,
mhic Mhaoilcholuim,
mhic Eoin duibh,
mhic Eoin,
mhic Grigoir,
mhic Eoin,
mhic Mhaolcholuim,
mhic Dhonchaidh bhig,
mhic Dhonchaidh a Sraileadh,
mhic Ghillfhaolain,
mhic Aoidh Urchaidh,
mhic Coinnich,
mhic Alpain ;
agus an Coinneach sin b'e ardrigh Albain gu deimhin 's an uair sin ;
agus an t-Eoin so an t-aon duine deug o'n Choinneach so a dubhairt mi.
Agus Donnchadh daoroglach Mac Dhughaill,
mhic Eoin Riabhaich, do sgriobh so leabhraibh seanachaidh nan righ ;
agus ro dheanadh Anno Domini Millesimo Quingentesimo duodecimo.

An entry dated 1512.

The English translation of his name being:
John son of Patrick,
son of Malcolm,
son of Black John,
son of John,
son of Gregor,
son of John,
son of Malcolm,
son of Duncan,
son of Duncan,
son of Gillelan,
son of Hugh,
son of Kennan.
Down from Alpin, heir of Dougal there are twenty and one besides thyself.

Neil and Matt MacGregor have been investigating the origins of Clan Gregor using an ever-increasing body of DNA evidence. They now feel that there is enough evidence to ask, "How potentially accurate is the claim within the poem that 21 generations were known to have occurred between John McPatrick and Kenneth McAlpine? Are the numbers a good or consistent claim or are they purely hypothetical with little evidence to support the claim?"

Assuming John McPatrick was born in 1440 and Kenneth Alpin, the first king of unified Scotland, was born ~810, we have a time period of 630 years. Time to common ancestor calculations use the generation period of 30 years as the mean generation gap. (Calculation: 630÷21= 30). Therefore, the time frame using the currently accepted generation time appears to be quite an accurate representaion of the number of people in the tree and adds significant weight to the claims within the poem. This also adds weight to the data within the Deans MS and seems to support the suggestion that the Dean had access to records which allowed him the develop the pedigree. Neil & Matt have been comparing DNA samples from other clans deriving from Argyll who also claim a Dalriadic descent such as the MacKinnons and MacNabs, Science may be supporting the traditional tales.

It has been claimed that the kindred who became Clan Gregor were some sort of Royal guard or keepers of the strategic passes. The Greek noun Gregorios means ‘Watchman’. ‘Gregor’ could even be a word-play on the role of the kindred. This may seem idle but a glance at a topological map of the western Highlands shows just how important the MacGregor glens were. Dalmally is near the eastern end of the Pass of Brander controlling access to Lorn. From the south come roads from Kintyre along the east of Loch Awe and from Loch Fyne through Glen Aray. Glens Lochy, Orchy and Strae are all eastward routes into the Central Highlands. Watchmen in Glen Strae can also guard potential routes into Glen Etive. Based on map evidence alone it is likely that the Dalriadic kingdom and later the Lordship of Lorn would place border guards in these glens. The MacDougall kindred descend from the eldest son of Somhairle or Somerled who created the Lordship of the Isles. Somerled was in turn descended from the Kings of Dalriada, Erin and Denmark. Hence ‘our race is royal’. The map of Innse Gall in the 13th century shows the eastern boundary of the lordship of Lorn was Loch Awe and Glen Strae. I must stress that this is conjecture on my part. I am not aware of documentary evidence of the exact relationship of Clann Ailpein to the Lords of Lorn, nor I have I seen any historical record of the ‘Watchmen of Lorn’.

Innse Gall in the thirteenth century

So why did clans develop in Scotland and persist in the Highlands long after kin-based tribes disappeared in most of the rest of Europe? Please forgive a digression into the early history of Scotland before I return to Clan Gregor.

The Picts are said to have practised matrilinear succession. Succession to Kingship was not from father to son, but within a kinship group known as a derbhfine. The most suitable king could be chosen from among eligible adult males in the ruling kindred. Descent through the female line was possible.  Thus, the King’s sister’s son might be preferred to the King’s son. When the Scots King Kenneth MacAlpin, became king of the united Picts and Scots, it was because by birth he was also a member of the Pictish ruling kindred. Looking at a genealogical tree of the Scottish Kings from Alpin to Robert I, it is very apparent that the succession never follows from father to son until David I.  During the lifetime of a ruler it was the custom to appoint a successor known as the tanist. The practise of tanistry can be shown to have continued among some Highland clans up to the 18th century.

genealogical tree of the Scottish monarchy Malcolm Canmore’s second wife was the Saxon princess Margaret. She was to be canonised by the Roman church for the destruction of the Celtic Church in Scotland. The long process of anglicisation began in her time. There were repeated attempts on the throne by Gaelic members of the ruling kindred, asserting the old tradition, until 1215. However, Malcolm and Margaret were succeeded by three of their six sons in succession during the 12th century culminating with the youngest, David, Earl of Huntingdon, who ruled from 1124 to 1153. All subsequent rulers of Scotland come from David by patrilinear descent.

The Margaret-sons also brought Norman knights and their feudal system. Scotland was the last country in Europe to adopt feudalism and the last to retain feudal tenure as the basis of its law. It was only finally abolished by the Scottish Parliament in the Abolition of Feudal Tenure Act of 2000.

Feudalism is important to the study of the Clanship because it is fundamentally opposite to the Celtic kin-based system of Land Holding. Feudalism is based on land whereas kindreds are about people. Betty Windsor is the Queen of England but Queen of Scots. Celtic kingship came from the regional tribes headed by sub-Kings or Mormaers at the head of their own kindreds, which in turn helped to select the Ard Righ or High King from the ruling kindred. Alexander II & III were particularly important in fusing kin-based and feudal authority, so that in the 13th century when most heads of kindred were also feudal lords, there was a stable and decentralised structure, with relatively weak kings. The later Stewart kings attempted to change this relationship, but their actions created instability and conflict.

In the Celtic system land was the duthchas or birthright of the kindred and could not be personal property, in the sense that buildings, clothes or weapons were. Kinsmen were supported as befitted their station from the lands of the kindred and in turn were expected to work and defend the duthchas. This was an aristocratic system, not democratic, nor was it a welfare state! Leadership of a kin-based society was hereditary though not necessarily patrilinear. As well as true kinsmen in the kindred there would also be unrelated servants. In a non-cash economy the Chiefs consumed their surplus income by feasting and gifts. Feasting meant inviting the principal members of the kindred and in particular the fighting men, to consume the rental. Gifts were also important in binding chief and kinsmen. In return the chief expected military support and labour.

The feudal system has a totally different underlying philosophy. All lands were the property of the King who granted them by charter to his tenants-in-chief, personally, in return for their fealty and service. They could sub-infeudate parts of their holdings to their vassals who could do the same in turn. Thus, apart from the king every-one in a feudal society had a superior on whom they depended and may have had vassals depending on them. Feudal tenure involved service by the vassal to the superior, which could take the form of military service, labour or specified rental. The tenure could be for a fixed term, the life of the grantee, or in perpetuity to the vassal and his heirs. Any superior, subject to his obligation to his own superior could dispose of his possessions at any time.  A superior could re-grant a feudal fief to anyone he chose, irrespective of kinship. The vassals often had little say in this.  Feudalism in France and England developed into a form with strong central authority by the fourteenth century. In Germany, central authority was so weak that the Empire dissolved into separate principalities. The Scottish situation was in between. Scotland remained united and absorbed the Viking lands but with weak central authority.

In 1066 William the Bastard, (he was illegitimate and he was called this in his own time - but only behind his back), Duke of Normandy and 'Conqueror' of the England dispossessed all the Saxon lords of England and granted out the entire realm to his own supporters. In Scotland, feudal tenure was only introduced gradually by the Margaret-sons. Norman knights did not acquire their lands by expropriation but by marriage to suitable Celtic heiresses. They did manage to create quite a few of these and many modern ‘Scots’ names, such as Menzies, Gordon and Bruce are Norman in origin.  Military service and heritable feudal jurisdiction were finally abolished after 1746.  Rentals in kind and labour service had been almost entirely transmuted into cash by 1800. However, the legal language of land tenure in Scotland remained a matter of superiors and vassals until AD 2000.

From the 13th century the legal basis of the ownership of land in the whole of Scotland was completely feudal. However old tenurial practices and beliefs survived. North of the Highland line from Stonehaven to Dumbarton, where the Gaelic language remained dominant, the older idea of kin-based land holding persisted into the 18th century. The expression ‘kindly rooms’ does not mean tenure out of the goodness of heart of the landlord, but the right of members of the kindred to land sufficient to support them and their dependants. It is important to note that Gaels often continued to support the chiefs of their kindred even when they lived on the charter lands of other lords. One obvious way of showing the difference between the Scottish and English systems is to look at the surnames of the modern population. The majority of the names of people with Scottish descent are personal, such as MacGregor, Davidson and Fraser. In England the majority are territorial, that is they have the name of the village or estate where their ancestor lived such as Honeycombe or Wilton. In England and France society was stratified between an exclusive feudal elite which married within itself and the lower orders. In Scotland although the social structure was just as aristocratic, lowland names and highland clans were inclusive rather than exclusive. Younger sons of the elite tended to marry into the name rather than among their peers. Nor should we ignore the illegitimate offspring that were usually acknowledged and provided for within the kindred. The Glen Orchy Campbells produced lots of bastards in the 16th century!

Clan formation begins with the ‘name-father’ who has control of resources - (ie land). He allocates parts of it to his sons, usually in a way that does not alienate their lands from the total. Brothers, cousins and other members of the name-father’s lineage as well as non-related dependants may be involved in maintaining the growing kindred. Successful kindreds extend their holdings through the generations creating further opportunities for cadet branches to form. As the supply of land was fixed the process proceeded in successful clans at the expense of less successful lineages. As in the game of ‘snakes and ladders’ losing the favour of the monarch or a defeat by another kindred could reverse the growth or even end the existence of a lineage. The only difference between clanship in the Highlands and similar land-holding elsewhere was the survival in it of some of the old Celtic ideas.

lordship territories of the west highlands about 1400

The map shows the lordships of the central Highlands as they were about 1400. Note in particular the Earldoms of Atholl, Strathearn, Menteith and Lennox. To the west is the Lordship of the Isles. Lorn was the truncated remains of the MacDougall lands. The white area was largely crown lands, church property and smaller territories, including at this time those held by the Campbells.

Kin-based land-holding was once common throughout Scotland. The pursuit of power by the great lowland kindreds such as Douglas or Hamilton led to the blood-feuds of the late 16th century. In the 17th century the lowland kindreds changed into land-owning aristocratic families on the English pattern. Perhaps due to language division some Highland Clans retained their archaic forms into the 18th century. Highland clans were by no means uniform in structure.

Despite the certainty of the clan maps in tartan shops, territories were dynamic over time. It is difficult to classify them. At one end of the continuum were the great feudal territorial magnates holding most of their lands directly from the Crown. These included Earldoms such as: Campbells of Argyll, Murrays of Atholl and Gordons of Huntly. At times the government granted powers of regality to these lords, handing over total control of all the land and people within their jurisdiction. These magnates were part of the machinery of power in Scotland, sharing the great offices of State between them. Their territories had grown well beyond their original boundaries and included numerous subordinate groups. Such vassal clans or septs could be the followers of distant cousins of the Chief or of formerly independent kindreds that had become wholly dependent upon him.

Then we have the aggregate clans. The Cumming chiefs are known to have renamed their servants by ‘baptising’ them as ‘Cummings of the hen-stone’. The Camerons, although themselves vassals of the Gordons often gave leases only to tenants who adopted their name. 16th century Frasers of Lovat are recorded as giving a boll of meal to men taking their name. Cumming and Fraser are Norman names.

Next to these were the lesser feudal barons and lairds who still possessed their own charter lands usually as tenants-in-chief of the crown. Their followers were more feudal vassals than clansmen although they may also have been kin. These were more prevalent on lands around the periphery of the Highlands and often Norman in origin. The Brodies and Roses in the North East may be given as examples.

Very similar to these are Celtic kindreds, whose chief possessed lands by heritable charter and whose followers lived entirely on his lands. These are probably the closest to the romantic idea of clanship. Their septs and cadet branches were formed by descent from scions of the family and the clansmen believed they had (and often did have) kinship with the chief whose name they shared.

More common was the situation of Clans, such as Clan Gregor, whose chief had a charter or lease to some but not all of the lands on which his followers lived, as a vassal of a greater Lord. Some of the clansmen who gave their calp to the chief lived on the lands of other lords to whom they gave only limited or no allegiance.

Finally came the large group sometimes known as ‘broken clans’. These had lost or never possessed legal title to the lands they occupied. If asked by what right they held their lands, the reply would be: ‘by the sword’. Their chiefs retained followers who gave him their calp, but they had no feudal rights. As almost all of the Highlands was the feudal possession of some Lord or other the existence of broken men could be a source of great trouble. Such kindreds were on the point of disappearance with their members drifting into the allegiance of more powerful chiefs. Otherwise, without land, they had little choice but to resort to theft and raids on their neighbours to survive. Indeed, territorial magnates habitually made use of such people in order to create trouble for their enemies.

In Lairds of Glen Lyon, Duncan Campbell states that Clan Gregor were the remnants of a large kindred that had been defeated and dispossessed during the wars of Independence and had been scattered across Perth-shire. There is no documentary evidence for this. The alternative put forward by Dr MacGregor is that they descend solely from an offshoot of the MacDougall kindred in Glen Orchy. Is it possible that all MacGregors are descended from a single individual in the 14th century? Society was overwhelmingly rural with relatively static technology and agriculture. The survival of kindreds depended on the produce of the land that they could hold and use. Less fortunate people may have been attracted by relative security and put to work as servants. Those without resources were less able to pass on their genes. Recent work on DNA has demonstrated that a substantial number of MacGregors do relate to the chief, others may descend from ancestors who were members of our precursor kindred before 1300. There are also a significant number (but much less than in clans such as the Campbells) who clearly descend from 'part-takers' and have only far distant kin relationship with the rest of the clan.

As Malthus put it, population increases geometrically while resources can only increase arithmetically.  If we assume early marriage, an average generation of 25 years and an family size of 6, allowing for daughters and child-hood mortality leaving 2 sons surviving to marry and procreate. Starting in 1325, by 1550 there could be 512 adult male descendants and, if unchecked, a million by 1825! The possibility of such growth depended on the ability to colonise and hold new lands which is exactly what seems to have occurred at least until 1550, so it may be reasonable to estimate that the MacGregor chief could have called out 200 fighting men in 1550. Including their families, the kindred would have numbered more than a thousand. To put this in context the total population of Scotland in 1550 has been estimated at three-quarters of a million, evenly split between north and south, with less than 10% in urban settlements. The area from Rannoch to Aberfoyle and from Dalmally to Comrie is 3600 sq. km, or 4.7% of Scotland. Crudely, this is two thirds of the pre-1975 county of Perth, omitting Atholl and the area around Perth itself. The population is unlikely to have exceeded twenty five thousand. The military strength of Clan Gregor would therefore be very significant in this area.  Of course, the equipage and maintenance of fighting men was a significant cost. Not only were weapons and equipment expensive the men had to be available whenever required. This meant that the task of providing food and accommodation fell on others. The statutes of Iona in 1609 were largely aimed at reducing the ability of Clan chiefs to maintain fighting men in this way.

The raw materials of the historian are written records, perhaps enriched by other verifiable sources. The historian is very suspicious of legend and tradition, but the Celtic peoples placed great store on the oral tradition, with songs and stories, genealogies and legends being recited around the fire. Sadly the social changes of the 18th and 19th centuries resulted in most of this corpus being lost forever. Our own James MacGregor, Dean of Lismore, who lived at Fortingall in the 16th century, recorded some of these stories and legends and his manuscript contains some of the oldest surviving Gaelic poetry. 

Much Highland history is gleaned from the contents of the charter chest. The successful Highland chief carefully guarded his bonds and charters. There was no Scottish Record Office to keep a copy. The Campbell chiefs knew the value of their sheepskins. When they captured their neighbour’s castle the contents of the charter chest was the first objective.  Only the winner in this struggle wrote the history. When James V made his visitations around the Highlands, he demanded that the chiefs showed their charters. Without them the lands could be granted to another.
In a true feudal system a vassal gave his service in exchange for access to land and the protection of the lord. In 1547 the Scottish parliament introduce feu-ferme whereby the service element could be eliminated. A heritable tenure of land could be established in exchange for a grassum or entry payment and annual feu-duty. Two features of clanship are fundamental to understanding the story of Clan Gregor.  Bonds of Manrent were personal service agreements between a lord and his vassal, which were not necessarily based on land. In exchange for the protection of the lord, the vassal obliged himself to provide specified military or other service to the lord. Manrent often vested ultimate control of the vassal’s possessions in the lord. Vassals often gave their manrent to the lord on whose lands they lived. Therefore, where the right of the superior to those lands was dubious, the existence of bonds of manrent could be claimed as proof of those rights.  Manrent could be transferred, as in 1550 the Earl of Argyll transferred Glenstrae’s service from Cawdor to Glenorchy.

The other feature of clanship was the calp that was not necessarily given to the Superior on whose land the vassal lived. This relationship was more personal than manrent. Strictly speaking calp was the right of the chief, on your death to have your best cow. A chief who had accepted the calp of his kinsman or duin’uasal was obliged to support him, right or wrong. Just as the duin’uasal had to fight the chief’s battles whether right or wrong. The important difference about calp was that it was the vassal’s to give rather than the superior’s to grant. The vassal had a choice. In the recent debate about Scotland’s constitutional position in the United Kingdom, the principle was argued that sovereignty in Scotland comes up from the people. In England, sovereignty comes down from the Crown, since 1688, expressed as the Crown in Parliament. The distinction between legally recognised feudal obligations and the duty of supporting kin was fundamental to understanding the problems faced by Clan Gregor in the 16th century. Grey Colin’s bonds of manrent to MacGregors in the 1550s often stipulated that they renounce their calp to Glenstrae.

Between 1328 and 1603, the central government of Scotland was often weak. It would have been better for Scotland if the old Pictish method of succession had been in use. Instead, we had weak kings in Robert II and III and a minority before the reign of almost every one of the James’s and Mary. During these times lords tried to increase their power at the expense of the Crown and their rival. A strong right hand was necessary to hold what one had and weakness was ruthlessly exploited. Of necessity the government delegated legal authority to the great magnates and as far as Clan Gregor was concerned that usually meant Campbell regality. Indeed from 1528 the Earl of Argyll was hereditary Lord Justice General. “Hame’s hamely, quo the de’il when he found himself in the Court of Session.” However, Dr MacGregor’s thesis, drawn from the records of the Argyll and Breadalbane estates and state papers, shows a complex situation at odds with the accepted idea of permanent conflict between MacGregor and Campbell.

Local legal authority was vested in heritable feudal baronies. (The holder of a feudal barony was quite distinct from the rank of Baron in the Peerage, although he might also have been a Peerage Baron or Earl). Such jurisdiction gave the right of pit and gallows. His expenses could be recouped (and more) by fines. When the lands of a laird coincided with his baronial jurisdiction then the system was as good as could be devised, subject to his abilities. However, when his jurisdiction included the lands of other lairds, with whom he may have been at feud, then the temptation to abuse the rights of office must have been great. Crown lands usually had their jurisdiction vested in a hereditary baillie. The lairds of Glen Orchy were granted the Crown Bailliary of much of the central zone lands. They used this jurisdiction to help their friends, damage their enemies and above all, extend their possessions.

At the start of the 14th century, the chief of the kindred that was to become Clan Gregor held the lordship of Glen Orchy. A 1358 charter showed that the superiority of Glen Orchy had passed into the hands of a Campbell heir. The lands of Glen Orchy, Glen Lochy and Glen Strae were the principal places occupied by the clan before 1437 with little documentary evidence of settlement elsewhere. The key centres of the kindred were Diseart Chonain or Dalmally, Stronmilchan and Achallader.

Scotland had been devastated by a generation of war between 1296 and 1328. In particular the MacDougalls and their allies in and around Lorn must have lost heavily in their defeat at Brander in 1308. Then in 1350, came the bubonic plague called the Black Death. More than a third of the population may have died. Càrn nam Marbh or cairn of the dead at Fortingall is still to be seen. It appears that the Glen Lyon people were badly hit by plague. On the evidence of their growth in numbers, the Glen Orchy kindred may have escaped lightly. Thus an opportunity may have been created for early expansion through Auch Glen into Glen Lyon. In Duncan Campbell’s Lairds of Glen Lyon, we find an account of a legendary plague that destroyed almost the entire population. He placed this plague in the time of the Columban Saint Eonan and stated that MacDougalls from Lorn later repopulated the glen. However, as the MacDougall kindred did not exist until the 13th century, it seems a safe assumption that the legend refers to the plague of 1350. In 1372 David II granted Glen Lyon to John MacDougall of Lorn. His daughter and heiress married John Stewart who may have been the laird of Glen Lyon called Iain Dubh nan lann or Black John of the spears. A daughter of the last Stewart lord of Lorn married a Campbell from whom came the Campbell lairds in the early 16th century. It is possible that the grant of 1372 followed actual settlement of MacDougall kindred after 1350. A MacGregor lineage had acquired the Deanery of Lismore at Fortingall by 1406 and the first documentary evidence of MacGregor settlement in Glen Lyon is later than that. Lacking evidence of earlier settlement this is merely speculation. However from the 1437 Glen Lyon was the main expansion route eastwards for Clan Gregor.

Until the late 14th century, feudal lordship often coincided with powerful Celtic heads of kindred. The lands between Atholl in the East and Lorn in the West were crown estates. Their rentals were intended to pay the expenses of the monarchy. However, during the reigns of Robert II and III, their sons seized much of the central Highlands. These included the Earldoms of Lennox, Menteith and Strathearn and Atholl as well as these Royal lands. Within these territories lay the areas which Dr MacGregor terms the central zone: The Appin of Dull, including Rannoch and Glen Lyon; the lands around Loch Tay; and Glen Dochart, Strath Fillan and Glen Falloch, stretching from Finlarig to the north end of Loch Lomond. Most of these lands fell into the hands of Robert and his son Murdoch, Dukes of Albany during their regency. In 1425, on his return from English captivity, James I attempted to centralise authority on the English pattern by weakening the great lords. Murdoch was executed.  Some of his lands were retained as crown estate but, following the assassination of James in 1437, they were to become a power vacuum ripe for colonisation. The lack of a single powerful lord or kindred in this area created an opportunity for Campbell expansion. Colin, first Campbell laird of Glen Orchy was involved in the capture of the regicides for which he was later knighted and granted the lands of Lawers on Loch Tay.

The 15th century saw an uninterrupted waxing of Campbell power at local and national levels. In 1457, their chief was created Earl of Argyll. Kilchurn Castle, only two miles from the MacGregor residence at Stronmilchan was built as the principal residence of the Glen Orchy Campbells in the 1440s. It may seem surprising, but for much of the 16th century the MacGregors of Brackley were the hereditary keepers of Kilchurn. The relationship between Campbell and MacGregor appears to have been one of co-operation. Clan Gregor had become a client or subordinate kindred of the Campbells. Between 1437 and 1550 MacGregor expansion eastwards through a zone extending from Rannoch south to the Lennox was instrumental in enabling the Campbell chiefs to bring these territories into their sphere of influence. The pre-eminence that the Campbells of Glen Orchy achieved in Breadalbane owed much to their close relationship with the MacGregors and to their extensive settlement in the area. Clan Gregor must have been better armed and led over a long period than any other kindred in the zone. In recognition of the reality of Campbell power, successive earls of Argyll between 1475 and 1549 were made lieutenant and justiciar of much of the central zone lands. Only the earldom of Atholl was to be a barrier to Campbell expansion and for much of the 16th century there was tension between them with Menzies of Weem caught in the middle. Argyll’s expansion into the Lennox saw MacGregors also established at Ardinconnel and Laggarie on the Gareloch.

As a result of the rapid eastward expansion of the MacGregor kindred it subdivided into distinct septs. The Glen Lyon kindred itself subdivided into the lineages of Roro, Fearnan, Ardeonaig and Rannoch. The kindred of Duncan Ladasach were in Glen Lochay and Glen Dochart. The kindred of Padraig Choaldich were found in Glen Lednock. Clann Dùghaill Chèire was in Balquhidder and Glengyle. The MacRaibert lineage was found in Strathyre and the MacEoins or Johnsons were in Perth. In the period 1437-1550, only the Glen Lednock lineage acquired a heritable legal title.

Argyll and Perthshire showing earldoms and most important glens Clan Gregor were pastoralists. They lived on the produce of Cattle and other livestock. They reared them, traded them and moved them around the country in droves. The less charitable may observe that sometimes they stole them too! Haldane in his Drove roads of Scotland identified the routes taken by the drovers in the 18th century on their way to the Crieff and Falkirk trysts. In earlier centuries there may have been more east-west traffic along Loch Rannoch and Loch Tay as well. Hides shipped from the east-coast ports were one of Scotland’s principal exports. In almost every settlement mentioned Clan Gregor lineages sat on the drove routes from the West and North. Not only would they participate in the trade directly they could also profit from tolls for passage and overnight pasturage.

Well-defined routes, suitable for cattle and packhorses led from the original Clan Gregor glens to the areas of new settlements. From the bealach at the head of Glen Strae it is an easy walk to Achallader and Rannoch. From either Glen Orchy or Glen Lochy, Auch Glen provides a route to the head of Glen Lyon. From Glen Lochy, via Strath Fillan they could reach Glen Dochart. Glen Lochay and Glen Lednock are on the drove route from Glen Lyon. Balquhidder and Glen Gyle are reached through Strath Fillan and Glen Falloch or directly from Dalmally via Gleann nan Caorann.
In the period 1513 to 1550, the Glen Orchy Campbell lineage declined in influence, relative to the Campbells of Lawers, Cawdor and Glen Lyon. At the same time a resurgent Earl of Atholl obtained lands in Glen Lochay. MacGregor military power in this period seems to have been in the service of Cawdor, brother of the third Earl of Argyll. Following the acquisition of the thanage of Cawdor in 1512, evidence of MacGregor settlement can be found in the Elgin and Forres area. During this period Clan Gregor are reported in Government records for violent actions at the behest of the Campbells, but Argyll’s position in Government ensured that little came of these.

James IV followed a policy of weakening the authority of clan chiefs, by cancelling charters and fomenting conflict.  In 1490, he forfeited the Lordship of the Isles, and began a century of feuding over its remains. In 1502, he elevated Menzies of Weem to control of Appin of Dull and Rannoch, thus creating a bitter feud with the Stewarts of Fortingall which weakened both and permitted MacGregor expansion into Rannoch, by coir a’ chlaidheimh, or sword-right. Once settled in Rannoch, Menzies found it impossible to remove them and following mediation by Campbell of Lawers in 1543, Menzies granted MacGregor of Glen Strae a formal tack of Rannoch.

Campbell genealogy

By 1550, when the MacGregor lineages were probably the most powerful military force in the Central zone, Cailean Liath or Grey Colin Campbell became Glen Orchy chief. The Earl of Argyll granted the service of Clan Gregor to Grey Colin and a new period of Campbell expansion began. Grey Colin died in 1583 and was succeeded by his son Donnchadh Dubh a Curraic (Black Duncan of the Cowl) who died in 1631.

During this period the two men played a significant part in national politics. They were absolutists and utterly intolerant of opposition. After 1550 the Glen Orchy lineage appeared to have significantly greater financial resources than before and this wealth allowed them to exploit the financial failures of their neighbours.

The MacGregor settlers in the central zone continued to give their calp to MacGregor of Glen Strae as head of their kindred. He in turn was a vassal of Campbell of Glen Orchy. Hence the lands that the MacGregor settlers occupied could become Glenorchy’s once he had a suitable opportunity to obtain charters from the King or his regents. To provide an income for the crown, the royal lands in the central zone were usually leased, not feued. However inflation in the 15th and 16th centuries meant a reduction in the real income of the crown. Although James IV attempted to increase rentals, there was a decline in real value of rental and a corresponding increase in the value of the product of the land. This gave the Glen Orchy lairds the capital with which they could buy heritable feudal charters of the lands they claimed to possess.

By 1600 Black Duncan had gained control through feudal charter and manrent of much of the central zone. He granted lands to each of nine sons and tocher-gude to his eight daughters. Inevitably there were casualties in this process, ranging from reduced status, through displacement to total oblivion. Earlier generations of the Campbell lineage were either bought out or granted lesser tacks. Kindreds that depended on the Campbells before 1550, including the MacGregors, were even further reduced and the exactions and duties demanded of them increased substantially.

Prior to 1550, the servants and followers of the Glen Orchy chiefs appeared to be overwhelmingly Gaelic. After the accession of Grey Colin, increasing numbers of non-Gaelic names including their notaries, reformed ministers and stewards appear in the records. Grey Colin and Black Duncan also embarked on a building programme of castles, bridges, inns and churches as well as forestry.  Grey Colin was an enthusiastic supporter of the Reformation and succeeded in obtaining most of the lands of the Carthusian Charterhouse and the Priory of Strath Fillan.

Clan Gregor and other kin-based lineages of Breadalbane all experienced reduction in status under the Campbell hegemony after 1550. This pattern was typical of the dynamic of kin-based societies. Unusually, however the Clan Gregor lineages responded with a sustained and violent resistance. There was an exceptionally violent and bitter feud with Grey Colin between 1562 and 1570 that left a permanent legacy. There was also a 70-year struggle over the MacGregor lands in Glen Strae. Glen Strae was important to Clan Gregor because in legal terms it was the only territory held by the chiefs on a heritable basis.  There was an emotional attachment since the chiefs had held Glen Strae since the inception of the lineage in the early 14th century and the fertility of the lower strath made the land economically important as well. They held Glen Strae as vassals of Argyll until 1554, when during the minority of Gregor Roy, Grey Colin purchased the superiority. When Grey Colin acquired the superiority of the MacNab lands in Glen Dochart he allowed the MacNabs to remain as vassals in the bulk of their lands. However, Grey Colin granted Glen Strae not to Gregor Roy MacGregor but to his own son. Between 1562 and 1570 Gregor Roy and his kindred fought a guerrilla war against Grey Colin. Later they continued to hold the glen without legal title. It took until 1624 before Black Duncan gained actual possession. 

Due to the way that the Campbells had used the MacGregors to colonise Breadalbane it was inevitable that during the consolidation phase they were affected most. When the Earl of Argyll attempted to mediate in 1565, suggesting the MacGregors be allowed to re-occupy their kindly possessions, Grey Colin answered, “I cannot meet your Lordship’s request by reason that the Clan Gregor allege that most of the lands I have should be theirs”.

intermarriage of Macgregor chiefs with Campbells The genealogy of the MacGregors of Glen Strae in the 16th century shows the extent to which they were inter-married with the Campbell lineages.

Alasdair of Glen Strae died in the late 1540s, ‘of the hurt of an arrow, leaving a minor, Gregor Roy as heir. Duncan Ladasach in Glen Lochay became his tutor or guardian. It is difficult to determine whether Duncan’s violent acts after 1550 were committed as acting head of Clan Gregor or as part of his personal feud with Grey Colin. In 1550 Alasdair Odhar signed a bond with Grey Colin resigning the important MacGregor holding of Wester Morenish to him. In late 1551, Duncan Ladasach killed Alasdair Odhar for this act. By March 1552 Grey Colin had contracted James Stewart of Baldoran and Andrew Drummond to pursue Duncan, as the task must have been beyond his own resources. In May 1552, Grey Colin and Duncan Ladasach were apparently reconciled and signed a bond whereby Colin forgave their crimes and gave Duncan his protection. However by 16th June the Chronicle of Fortingall reported the execution of Duncan and two of his sons. Thereafter Gregor Roy was fostered by his mother’s family, that of Campbell of Ardkinglas.

With the death of the Dean of Lismore and minority of Gregor Roy the MacGregors were now leaderless. A profoundly unstable situation around Loch Tay, the Appin of Dull and Rannoch enabled Grey Colin to draw others into feudal dependency and manrent on him. In a divide and rule strategy, Colin’s bonds with five MacGregors in 1552 specifically renounced their loyalty to the MacGregor chief. However between 1555 and 1561 there seems to have been a thaw in relations, while Colin consolidated his power in other directions. He obtained the superiority of most of Balquhidder in 1558 and brought the MacGregors of Glen Lednock and Clan Dùghaill Chèire as well as the MacLaren kindred and the Macintyres under his control.

In 1562 Gregor Roy reached his majority. A Rannoch MacGregor who had given his manrent to Grey Colin was killed. Grey Colin agreed to grant Gregor his lands of Glen Strae in return for surrendering the murderers and other conditions that severely compromised Gregor’s authority as chief. The defiant MacGregor response was the ambush and killing of a number of Campbells of Glen Lyon. Gregor Roy’s supporters included several that renounced their earlier bonds with Grey Colin. The ensuing feud was exceptionally bitter. Violence and destruction prevailed over much of Western Perthshire.  Its development was conditioned not just by the politics of the Campbell and MacGregor kindreds but also by the national dimension of the difficulties of Mary Queen of Scots. Argyll was hereditary Justice General of Scotland and he appointed Grey Colin as his Justice Depute. In the early part of 1563 commissions were issued guaranteeing immunity for any violent acts against MacGregors.  Grey Colin gave bonds to MacDonald of Keppoch and MacIain of Glencoe for their service in the pursuit of Clan Gregor. Argyll also issued immunities to MacGregors who had not been actively involved in an attempt to isolate Gregor Roy. In September 1563 further commissions against the clan were issued to the Earls of Moray, Atholl and Errol, the Lords Ogilvie, Ruthven and Drummond as well as Argyll and Grey Colin.

On 1st October 1563, Argyll wrote to Gregor Roy suggesting that he came to terms, but Grey Colin remained uncompromising. Indeed Argyll and Grey Colin became divided from each other. Letters indicate that the hunters were being denied shelter and food while the hunted were being covertly supported and maintained. In January 1564 the Privy Council passed Acts forbidding reset of Clan Gregor. Minutes of the Council in March indicate concern about the excesses committed by Grey Colin. As a result only Argyll and Atholl were given new commissions to pursue Clan Gregor while Grey Colin was restricted to pursuit of the resetters and he was made liable, for the first time, for crimes committed by him and his servants. At this time Argyll was assisting MacDonald of Dunivaig against the O’Neils in Ireland and it appears that Gregor Roy and his men were in Antrim between March and June possibly as part of Argyll’s military force. Mary issued instructions that Gregor Roy and his men should not be permitted passage back to Scotland, but by October reports to Cecil in London showed that they had returned by way of Carrick. Mary severely reprimanded Grey Colin in August for excesses and abuse of his powers but did nothing more against him and by the end of the year the feud had resumed as before.

In a November letter, Gregor Roy offers peace if Grey Colin would permit him and his kinsmen to possess their ‘awin kynd natife rummis’.  He also offered to make amends by “service and geir” for damages, so long as this involved no concessions concerning his heritage or the lives of his kinsmen. This last was a reference to Grey Colin’s demand that Gregor surrender the murderers of 1562. Grey Colin would not compromise and the stalemate dragged on.

In the summer of 1565 Argyll and Grey Colin supported the Earl of Moray against Mary in the rebellion known as the ‘Chaseabout raid’. Atholl and Lennox were among Mary’s main supporters. Now Argyll and Grey Colin needed the MacGregor military strength as servants of the Campbell power, but Mary and Atholl also courted Gregor Roy. In July Argyll offered a settlement on the basis of Gregor’s offer. By August the Campbells were in open war against Mary and Atholl. Moray and Argyll continued to urge a settlement with Clan Gregor on Grey Colin, while Mary and Atholl tried to foment the quarrel. In September, most of Clan Gregor, excluding those on Atholl’s lands, came to a settlement, with their lands restored as before, and mutual forgiveness on both sides. Thereafter, the MacGregors did give military service to the rebels but by November the rebellion had collapsed. Following the murder of Riccio in March 1566, Argyll was rehabilitated and the crimes of Clan Gregor were included in the remission granted to the Campbells.

In the abeyance of the feud between late 1565 and mid 1567, Gregor Roy married Marion, daughter of Duncan Campbell of Glen Lyon. Despite the settlement, it seems that there was no forgiveness of damage, Gregor Roy was not infeft in Glen Strae and there was no general restoration of MacGregors to their kindly rooms. Indeed Grey Colin’s expansionist activities resumed in Strathearn, Balquhidder and Glen Lednock. The MacGregor lands of Achallader and Wester Morenish were granted to Campbells. It was Mary’s influence that prevented further open hostility, but in July 1567 Mary was imprisoned and forced to abdicate. Within a day of James VI’s coronation Argyll gave permission for some of his followers to assist Grey Colin against Clan Gregor. In May 1568 Atholl and Grey Colin, along with Menzies of Weem and Stewart of Grandtully allied themselves against Clan Gregor, although Argyll was not involved.

By late 1568 general hostilities had broken out once more, and in mid 1569 pursuit of Gregor Roy’s men was exceptionally intense. In August Gregor Roy was captured. The Regent Moray demanded that Grey Colin surrender Gregor for trial by him, but Colin refused although he was politically unable to execute him. Moray was assassinated in January 1570 and a new Regent was not appointed until June. Argyll came to a new agreement with Atholl in late March and gave Grey Colin a license to execute Gregor Roy, in return for which he promised to grant Glen Strae to Gregor Roy’s baby son Alasdair. Grey Colin personally, beheaded Gregor Roy at Kenmore. Marion composed the well-known lament, Griogal Cridhe in his memory.

Clan Gregor’s revenge during the next six months saw the worst violence of the conflict. Despite his promises, Grey Colin granted Glen Strae to his own son, Black Duncan. The MacGregors found refuge in the Lennox, particularly among the MacFarlanes. The national government, in the person of the Regent Lennox used the feud as a weapon against his bitter rival, Argyll. The submission of the Campbells to the Regent’s authority led to the final settlement in October 1570. In the treaty, Grey Colin accepted Ewin, as tutor to the two sons of Gregor Roy; he promised the wardship of Glenstrae; to restore kindly rooms in Rannoch; and that crimes and damages on both sides would be forgiven. The brothers of Gregor Roy and sons of Duncan Ladasach came to an agreement with Atholl in the following August. However, covert agreements between Atholl and Grey Colin on the same day showed a degree of duplicity that did not augur well for the future.

It was Campbell expansionism and Grey Colin’s inflexible greed that had begun the conflict. In the words of the prayer, “From the greed of the Campbells, good Lord deliver us”. During the course of the conflict, Glenorchy’s men had committed serious violence against suspected resetters and others whose lands he desired. However, following the violence of the 1560s, it was the MacGregors, not the Campbells, who came to be perceived as the most violent and lawless of the clans.

By 1573 the Douglas Earl of Morton had destroyed or cowed all of his rivals. Morton ruled as Regent until his fall in 1580. Thereafter James VI began his personal rule.

In 1581 Ewin, the tutor of Glenstrae signed a bond with the powerful Sir John Campbell of Cawdor. Grey Colin died in 1583 to be succeeded by Black Duncan who continued his father’s policy of repression and acquisition.  When Argyll died in 1584, Cawdor was appointed the principal tutor or guardian to the young Earl.  Despite a raid in 1586 after which Alasdair and 104 other MacGregors were temporarily put to the horn, times were relatively quite for Clan Gregor.

In 1588 Alasdair Roy came of age and applied to be enfeoffed in his lands of Glen Strae.  Black Duncan refused. In the same year Drummond-Eireannach, the King’s keeper of the Royal forest of Glenartney, hanged several MacGregors whom he had caught poaching. Next year Drummond-Eireannach was killed in revenge. The killers took his head to the house of Stewart of Ardvorlich where his sister was married to the Laird. The sight of her brother’s head drove Lady Ardvorlich to wander the hills half-mad. Later in Balquhidder, Alasdair Roy and most of the assembled clan swore to protect them. The Privy Council issued commissions to apprehend Alasdair and 138 others who were to be tried and executed immediately on capture. The Drummonds and Stewarts were hearty enough in the pursuit but Black Duncan was the most active. The MacGregors defended themselves stubbornly. Atholl and Cawdor gave the outlaws refuge. In December 1590 Cawdor caused the Chancellor to command Black Duncan to forgive Clan Gregor. The two sides pledged to end the violence in mid 1591 and soon after Glenstrae and his followers were pardoned.

Cawdor was closely allied to the Earl of Moray in the Presbyterian party. The Catholic party led by the Earl of Huntly was arrayed against them. Cawdor effectively controlled the Earldom of Argyll. Black Duncan resented his exclusion. He plotted with Ardkinglas and Lochnell to destroy Cawdor and the young Earl. Lochnell was to get the title while Black Duncan took most of the Argyll lands. Black Duncan moved closer to the Huntly interest and became involved in a wider conspiracy that was intended to procure the death of Moray as well. In February 1592 one Gillipatrick MacEllar shot Cawdor dead using a gun supplied by Ardkinglas. Soon afterwards, Huntly and others killed Moray at his house of Donibristle.

“Ye Hielands and ye Lawlands, oh where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray and hae laid him on the green.

In reaction to these killings the Presbyterian party succeeded in forcing the King to accede to an extreme Presbyterian form of Church government. The plot had left the plotters with no reward and Argyll still lived. In 1593 Argyll, now old enough to act on his own behalf discovered the plot. As hereditary Justiciar-general, he had MacEllar tortured to reveal Ardkinglas’s name. Ardkinglas, in turn revealed the rest. The Catholic Earls were found to be in league with Spain and forfeited. By 1596, Huntly had been ruined and Lochnell was dead, though Ardkinglas was in hiding from the Earl’s revenge. Black Duncan contrived his reconciliation with Argyll.

The new Earl, Gilleasbuig Greumach or Archibald the Grim had all the Campbell passion for land grabbing. There was neither truth nor pity in him. He made mischief on all sides, stirred his neighbours against one another and then, armed with legal commissions, quenched in blood the flames he had kindled. Thus he acquired Kintyre, Islay and Ardnamurchan and the undying hatred of Clan Donald for the Campbells.

Bereft of Cawdor’s protection and in spite of the 1591 pardon, the Drummonds and Stewarts continued their feud with the Balquhidder MacGregors and in 1593 the government issued new letters of fire and sword to the Buchanans among others. Aulay MacAulay of Ardincaple in the Lennox, a kinsman who had secretly given his bond to Glenstrae in 1591 complained to the Privy Council about the actions of the Buchanans and the letters were cancelled.

Parliament passed the General Band in 1587 making landlords personally liable for the actions of their followers and dependants. Broken men were enacted to be the responsibility of the proprietor on whose lands they lived. Clan Gregor appeared at the head of a list of clans that have chiefs on whom they depend, oft-times against the will of their landlords. King James began to enforce this act in 1594 and Black Duncan found himself summoned for the actions of his bitter enemies.  Proprietors once more tried to evict their MacGregor tenants. Life was becoming even harder for Clan Gregor. In desperation, Alasdair Roy turned to Argyll, the one magnate who might be willing to protect the clan. Argyll, in return for his support wanted a band of thugs to prosecute the private feuds that, as Justiciar-General, he did not care to be seen openly involved in.  Alasdair found the price too high; Argyll wanted him to attack both Ardkinglas and Aulay MacAulay. Ardkinglas was Alasdair’s kinsman and friend while MacAulay had aided Alasdair when he had been outlawed in 1593.
In July 1596, Alasdair presented himself before the King at Dunfermline. A blanket pardon was issued acquitting the whole clan of the murder of Drummond-Eireannach and all other crimes. This was made conditional on Alasdair remaining at court, but it did not last, for by 1597 he was back in Rannoch and had to find caution of 20,000 merks and give hostages for the behaviour of the clan. He could do neither and soon found himself outlawed again. In fact the record of Clan Gregor in the period 1592 to 1602 was relatively good, in comparison to the feuds and depredations elsewhere. Argyll did not forgive Alasdair for his appeal to the King and in 1598 set a raiding band of MacLeans on Alasdair’s lands in Rannoch. Rather than retaliate, Alasdair took his case to the High Court in Edinburgh. Although he won his case and was awarded damages, MacLean, secretly backed by Argyll, ignored it.

In March 1601, the Privy Council once more denounced Clan Gregor, although there is no record of any fresh offences. Argyll was given an extensive commission to take sureties from the Clan for all complaints against Clan Gregor since 1596.  By Argyll’s subsequent actions it is clear that he had now got Clan Gregor entirely in his power.  Black Duncan burned the house of Stronmilchan and finally drove the MacGregors out of Glen Strae. He received a prompt remission from Argyll for this violent act. Argyll gave Clan Gregor carte blanche to raid his enemies and took no action on the resulting complaints against them.  Alasdair still refused to attack Ardkinglas or Aulay MacAulay, but Argyll had other enemies who were not kinsmen or friends of Clan Gregor. One of these was Colquhoun of Luss.

Alasdair Roy took 120 cattle from Colquhoun’s lands of Glen Mallochan in June 1602. Argyll ensured that no action was taken. In December Duncan MacEwin stripped Colquhoun’s lands of Glen Finlas of every beast and all moveable gear. Two of Colquhoun’s tenants were killed. The booty was reset by Argyll’s order among the Campbells of Strachur, Appin and Lochgoilhead. Colquhoun appealed to the king and organised a procession before Stirling Castle with women carrying shirts daubed in ox-blood at spear-point. Despite the blanket commission he had already issued to Argyll, the King issued a new commission of fire and sword to Colquhoun against Clan Gregor. Colquhoun, aided by the Buchanans raised 300 horse and 400 foot from their estates and the town of Dumbarton. Alasdair was warned about the expedition, giving him time to raise 300 men and march them down the side of Loch Long. Alasdair chose to fight at Auchengaich in Glen Fruin. He was out-numbered and in Colquhoun’s own country. In the battle 140 of Colquhoun’s men were killed for just 2 MacGregors. Alasdair then harried the Lennox. He took a large booty of livestock, much moveable gear and burnt every house on the lands of Luss.

James was about to depart for London when he received the news. Argyll had no further use for Glenstrae as he had served his purpose. The Privy Council ordained that the name of MacGregor should be altogether abolished and that persons of that clan should take themselves some other name on pain of death. Any one was given liberty to kill a MacGregor, whether or not they had been involved in the raid, and to take all his possessions as a reward. Any outlaw who did so was to be pardoned his crimes as well. Bounties were paid for the heads of MacGregor men. Children were to be forcibly adopted and reared as servants. Women were to be branded on the face and transported.

At first, there were those who helped and sheltered the clan. But the new law was enforced with a thoroughness and vindictiveness not seen before. The clan did not meekly submit. They maintained themselves in bands in wild places and harried the lands of their persecutors. Alasdair was betrayed by Ardkinglas, the Campbell he most trusted, when at his house on Loch Fyne. Somehow, while being transported to Inverary by boat, Alasdair escaped and swam ashore. In January 1604, he surrendered on a written promise from Argyll that he would be permitted to travel safely to England, in order to put his case to the King. His escort took him over the border at Berwick. There he found the Edinburgh town guard waiting to take him back. There was a trial, but Alasdair’s bitterest foes sat on the jury and he was hanged the next day with a number of kinsmen. Argyll was rewarded with £20000 and lands in Kintyre.

As late as 1611 the Privy Council continued to pay the bounty on MacGregor heads. Heavy fines were levied on resetters. Argyll made so much money out of it that the King demanded a share. As the years passed the persecution became less bitter. The survivors took aliases and settled down where they could find shelter. Some few, such as Gilderoy remained as outlaws in the waste lands. In 1624 the Earl of Moray took 300 MacGregors from Menteith to confront the Macintoshes. Many settled in Aberdeenshire and Moray including the famous academic family of Gregory.

In 1633 on the accession of Charles I it was re-enacted that none could bear the name; No minister could baptise the child of a MacGregor; No agreement with a MacGregor was legally enforceable; Killing a MacGregor was not punishable in law.

In the period 1570 to 1630 there were more than 360 blood-feuds in Scotland, most outwith the Highlands. Some of these exceeded in violence and destruction anything in which Clan Gregor had been involved. Only Clan Gregor was subject to the vicious and sustained punishments that have been described. Having contributed greatly to the creation of Campbell hegemony in Breadalbane Clan Gregor had become the greatest threat to that power. Therefore it lost Campbell patronage and protection.  The remarkable aspect of the Clan Gregor story was not the experience of Campbell and State violence, but the survival of the clan as an entity through that period.

For service in the Stewart cause in the civil wars, Montrose promised the restitution of Clan Gregor lands and an end to proscription. At the restoration of Charles II in 1660, although the Earl of Argyll was executed, the Campbell interest was too important to offend. In 1661 the act of 1633 was repealed but none of the other promises were honoured. Another Earl of Argyll was executed in 1685 for treason. In 1689 Donald Glas of Glengyle, father of Rob Roy, led a substantial Clan Gregor contingent in support of the deposed James VII. As a result, in 1693 the resurgent Campbell interest after the Revolution settlement saw the proscription re-imposed though without the earlier virulence. By 1774 the idea of clan-ship had become an anachronism. Only then was the name restored. After using their aliases for generations many continued to use them. By the very nature of the proscription we have only tradition rather than documentary evidence that some of these are truly MacGregor aliases.


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MacGregor despite them
The following bond is attached as an example of the measures used by the Campbells in their pursuit of the Clan Gregor. The rent for land held from Duncan Campbell of Glen Orchy is paid in MacGregor Blood.

Donald and Dougall McTarlich’s Bond.

Be it known to all men by these patent letters, we, Donald Mac Tarlich, and Dougal Mac Tarlich, brother, are bound and obliged, and, by the meaning of this bond, do bind and oblige ourselves faithfully and truly, either of us, during our lifetime and in the life-time of a male heir lawfully to be begotten of either of our bodies, to the right honourable Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy and his heirs that, inasmuch as the afore-said Duncan is obliged to make, give and deliver to me, the aforesaid Donald, a letter of land-lease during my lifetime and after my decease to a male heir lawfully to be begotten of my body during his lifetime, the entire two-mark land of Glen Eurin and the one-mark land of Elir, with all that belongs thereto, in the lordship of Lorne within the Shire of Argyle, and to me and the said Dougal during my lifetime and after my decease to an heir male lawfully to be begotten of my own body during his lifetime the entire half-mark land of Glen Katillie with all that belongs thereto in the lordship and shire aforesaid our entrance to the respective lands aforesaid, to be consequent on our performance and accomplishment of the following conditions and not otherwise.

Therefore we, being of a mind to do this before ever we shall crave possession of the aforesaid lands by virtue of the condition and promise aforesaid made by the aforesaid Duncan, and understanding Clan Gregor to be manifest malefactors and his Majesty’s declared rebels for sundry slaughters, evil deeds and oppressions done by them to divers persons his Highness’ leiges, we bind and oblige us, and either of us, that with the whole company and forces we may or can make, we shall, immediately following this date, enter into deadly feud with the Clan Gregor, and shall endure and continue therein and in making of slaughter upon them and their adherents both secretly and openly and shall in no manner of way or persuasion leave the same or desist and cease therefrom until the time that the aforesaid Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy finds himself by our travails and diligence satisfied and content with the slaughter we shall do and commit upon them, and especially abstract and withdraw us therefrom by himself as also will he find the way to make and agreement and pacification between us and the Clan Gregor for the slaughter we shall commit upon them, so that thereafter we may possess and enjoy the benefits of the aforesaid manner according to the tenour of the aforesaid assignment, and to this end we bind and oblige us and our aforesaid (heirs) faithfully and without fraud or guile. Subscribed with our hands as follows at Balloch (Kenmore) the 18th day of May, the year of grace, 1588, before these witnesses, Colin Campbell, son to Campbell of Lawers, Gavin Hamilton, Donald MacAngus and Marcus MacNaughton.